Way, way back in 2009, the Calgary Flames drafted a talented Swedish defender. That defender, Tim Erixon, decided against signing a pro contract with the Flames and prepared to re-enter the 2011 draft. In one of the more impressive feats of his general managerial tenure with Calgary, Jay Feaster swung a deal that garnered three assets (forward Roman Horak and two second round picks, used to take Tyler Wotherspoon and Markus Granlund) for the rights to Tim Erixon and disaster was averted.
Now, if that ordeal hasn’t soured the Flames on drafting Swedish defensemen, they may want to take a long look at Hampus Lindholm. In many ways, he’s the 2012 model of Tim Erixon.
Lindholm is not a giant. He’s 6-2, but he’s only 185 pounds. He’s got a big frame, but he’s not especially heavy or physical. That said, he moves well and he’s exhibited great vision in his recent play. He split last season between Rogle BK’s junior and professional teams. He had 17 points in 28 appearances with the junior squad, which led to him spending the latter part of the year with the pro group.
Despite being a youngster playing against men in Sweden’s secondary Allsvenskan league, he put up 4 points in 20 games. More impressively, he had 5 points in 10 games in Sweden’s relegation playoffs, which helped Rögle win the tournament and get promoted to Elitserien for the 2012-13 season. In-between these efforts, he had 4 points and won a silver medal with Team Sweden’s entry at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships. Not bad for a teenager.
Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus had this to say about Hampus Lindholm:
Lindholm got notably better as the season went on, as the big, toolsy defender certainly looked appealing at the end of the season. Lindholm is a high-end skater who excels in the transition game. He is very effective at bringing the puck up the length of the ice and for a man his size his skating ability can be quite eye-popping. He has offensive ability as a puck-mover, as he has pretty good vision and knows how to create plays, be it from outlets or dishes off the rush. However, his pure puck skills are about average, maybe a tad more.
In terms of his physical game, he’s above average although I’ve heard some scouts say he’s high-end physically, while some say he’s about average and doesn’t use his body that well. He’s bigger than most players and he rubs people off the puck at a notable enough level to be effective in that area of the game.
Lindholm’s defensive hockey sense is where he needs the most work, as he’s not bad in that area but he has his off moments. He does have good offensive instincts and vision, so there is potential that this problem could go away, but he does tend to look a little raw at times with his decisions in his own end or his overall positioning.”
Strengths: Mobility, vision, puck-moving, transition game
Weaknesses: Puck handling, hockey sense, defensive game
While all of the talk of this year’s draft class has been dominated with the big-name North American defenders (Murray, Trouba, Reinhart, Ceci, Reilly, Maatta…), it’s possible that Lindholm has fallen through the cracks. That’s likely going to result in a hockey club having a very good puck-moving blueliner fall into their laps. Moreover, unlike all the North American defenders, Lindholm has already spent time playing (and excelling) against grown men in a professional league. While Tim Erixon had more games and slightly better numbers in his draft year than Lindholm (and also played at the World Juniors that season), Lindholm projects to develop into a similar kind of player, albeit possibly with a bit lower ceiling.
For a Calgary Flames club a bit lacking in defensive prospects outside of, uh, John Ramage and Tyler Wotherspoon, Lindholm could be a pretty good acquisition. However, because the top-end of this draft is dominated by a lot of blueliners, It will depend on who is left on the board when the Flames step up to the podium this Friday if they take Lindholm or not. He will very likely still be available at 14, and the Flames will have their eyes on him if he’s the best defender still around by then.
Probability he will be around by 14: Very High
Probability Flames will pick him: Low-to-Moderate